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Sears, Roebuck & Co.
Sears was the dominant retailer in the world from the 1940s through 1991. The Amazon of its century, it built its business via mail order items it out-sourced from a constantly shifting set of manufacturers. It's first bicycles appeared in its 1894 catalog and the last catalog bicycle appeared exactly one hundred years later in 1993. They were the first department store to sell mass produced mountain bikes. From 1981 → 1983 Sears sold their “10 speed Trail Bike” under their own Free Spirit brand, and later stocked their stores and catalogs with department store mountain bikes from Murray, Huffy and Spalding.
Sears mtbs did not exist in 1984, as Sears sold Murray branded Bajas from 1984 → 1986 and no Sears branding was visible in 1984. Hence, they're not Sears bikes. Sears reintroduced an own branded Free Spirit Dynasty in 1985 and kept selling Sears labeled mtbs up through 1989.
1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue onlinebicyclemuseum.co.uk
28“ wheels, “Messenger Tires”, 14-16 butted spokes, “rat trap” pedals, 23 pounds in weight.1) It would be at home with today's fixies. All for $35, which equals $1200 in 2022 dollars.2) 3)
Sears building, Hackensack, New Jersey nnorthkersey.com
Sears, dominating the landscape.
1981 Free Spirit Trail Bike
26×2.125 knobbies, 10 speed “gears with a ratio of 36 to 96” 4), “motorcycle brake levers”, and side pull brakes. For 1981 and $149.99, this is a real mtb.
It's also identical to the Murray Baja, which also debuted in 1981. Given that Sears would soon sell labeled Murray Baja's, it's almost certain that Murray supplied Sears with American made, rebadged Bajas in 1981.
1981 Free Spirit Trail Bike 1981 Spring Sears catalog
1982 Free Spirit Trail Bike
No change in specs. $169.99
This is the only pic of a Free Spirit Trail Bike found, from any year, in any condition.
1983 Free Spirit Trail Bike
No change in specs or price. $169.99
1983 Free Spirit Trail Bike 1983 Spring Sears catalog
1985 Free Spirit Dynasty 930se
The large and very precise model number conjures a big company feel, of many models with historical continuity, and evoking Porsche's 930se model.5) The Dynasty line of bikes never made it into a Sears catalog.
Sears, Roebuck & Co. label on seat tube, Free Spirit badge on head tube. Likely a pre-1985 Falcon derailleur.
1985 Free Spirit Dynasty 930se bikeforums
1986 Dynasty Spalding
The 930se is dropped in favor of the Spalding partnership logo and gears are upped to 12. No Sears decal. Ads run in April 1986 show this bike, which is “Only at Sears” available for $159.93, so it's a Sears only brand at this point.
1986 Dynasty Spalding shopok
1987 Free Spirit Tourney 920se
1987 Free Spirit Tourney bidnow
1988 Spalding Blade
Falcon derailleurs of uncertain year. This model appears in the 1988 catalog.
1988 Spalding Blade bikewhistle
All Sears MTBs after 1989 are pure Murrays with no Sears logo and don't count for the Sears timeline.
What was the first mass produced mountain bike?
Early in 19817) Sears launched its Free Spirit All Terrain, far in advance of Specialized, Univega and Schwinn. Fat, knobby tires, decent gearing, rim brakes - for 1981, this was a good intro mtb.
Murray also simultaneously launched their Baja in 1981. Although no early Baja ads have been found, their 1981 catalog shows nine Baja models.8) The Murray Baja likely came before the Free Spirit, but the Sears' huge distribution meant that the Free Sprit was the first glimpse most people had of mountain bikes.9)
The Free Spirit may have outsold all other mtbs for 1981. Some early sales numbers for 1981:
- Ritchey frame sets: 400
- Specialized Stumpjumper : 200
- Lawwill-Knight Pro Cruiser : 150
- Murray Baja : ???
- Free Spirit All Terrain : <100???
While early Free Spirit All Terrains are very rare, early Murray Bajas can be easily found, but they're usually 1982+. For example, Mombat's 1981 Baja looks like an 1982 rather than a 1981, if the catalogs are to be believed.